- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Americans today are moving at the lowest rates in more than 50 years, a trend the Census Bureau primarily attributes to an aging population and the rise in homeownership.

According to the “Geographical Mobility: 2002 to 2003” report, the 40.1 million people who moved during that one-year period represented 14.2 percent of the total U.S. population, down sharply from a rate of 20 percent in 1948, when the Census Bureau first began collecting data on movers.

In 2002-03, about one-third of 20- to 29-year-olds had moved in the previous 12 months, more than twice the moving rate of all Americans in older age brackets. While mobility peaks at 30 percent among twentysomethings, it decreases with age, dipping to 4 percent and lower for those in their 70s and 80s.

The 14.2 percent moving rate decreased from 14.8 percent the previous year and from 16.1 percent in 1999-2000. Census tables showed that the rate exceeded 16 percent during most of the 1990s and even topped 17 percent during the early years of the decade.

But in the mid-to-late 1980s, the moving rate hovered between 18 percent and 19 percent, surpassing 20 percent in 1985. In prior decades dating back to the late 1940s — the start of the postwar baby-boomer population, when families looked for bigger homes in the suburbs — the annual moving rate largely remained around 19 percent or 20 percent, census data shows.

“The moving rate has steadily declined since the 1950s,” said Jason Schacter, a Census Bureau demographer and author of the report. “The rate has gone down 6 percent” in the past half-century, “and you’ll see it decline a little bit more” as the population continues to age.

Nationally, the 65-and-older population rose nearly 3 percent, to 35.9 million, between 2000 and 2003. The fastest senior growth was among those 85 and older. Their numbers climbed from 4.2 million to 4.7 million, an 11 percent increase.

The report found that homeownership is “one of the strongest predictors of whether a person moves.”

“Nearly one-third of people living in rental housing in 2002-03 moved during the prior year. That compared with only 1 in 14 people who lived in housing they owned or were buying.”

Mr. Schacter said that in 1950, 55 percent lived in housing they owned, while in 2000, the proportion of homeowners hovered at 66 percent.

While moving is on the decline overall, the report shows that long-distance moves are becoming slightly more common. The proportion of Americans who moved out of state was 19 percent. That was up from 16 percent in 1994.

The statistics clearly show that most moves are relatively local. Fifty-nine percent of movers relocated to a different address in the same county. Another 19 percent moved to a different county in the same state. Only 3 percent of movers that year came from abroad.

While the report showed that older people are less likely to move, it found that when seniors do move, they are more likely to go longer distances. Among those who moved in the year covered by the analysis, people 55 and older were more likely to have moved to a different state than younger age groups.

For example, 28 percent of all 55- to 64-year-olds who moved crossed state lines between 2002 and 2003, compared with 19 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds.

“Migration related to retirement could help explain age-based differentials in the likelihood of interstate moves,” the report says.

The data also show that this older age group was more likely to move longer distances in intercounty moves than younger people. Such moves could reflect a desire by older people to be closer to their families, the study says.

A census report released earlier this month showed that retirees are seeking more than sunshine and warm weather when they retire. They are also looking for less-expensive housing and more elbow room, and this has made states such as Idaho, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico increasingly attractive.

The new report found that the Midwest and Northeast each lost about 100,000 people to domestic migration between 2002 and 2003, while the South and West gained population of 125,000 and 74,000, respectively, in the same time frame. Among the states gaining most in new population are Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

“Much of the domestic migration loss was offset, and net domestic gain amplified by movers from abroad,” the report says.

People living below the poverty level were nearly twice as likely to have moved. Whites had the lowest moving rate at 12 percent. They were followed by Hispanics and blacks, each at 18 percent, and Asians at 17 percent.

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